Thinking about buying a used car? Cover all these angles first

February 7, 2020 12:22 am | Peter Warren

In the market for a new-to-you vehicle? Buying a secondhand car can help save you money in the short term, but what about long-term? It's important you know what to check for when buying a used car, to minimise your risks and help you get a good deal.

Used car costs can hide in plain sight

Used cars' conditions can vary greatly. You might find last year's model in a make you've been dying to get behind the wheel of, or you could be getting into a car with a long and checkered history. When you start looking at used cars, think about how much you're really willing to deal with for the next few years, because savings up front could mean hefty repair bills down the road. The previous owner may have gotten rid of the car because of a problem they knew about – or maybe they turned it over in good faith, unaware of hidden issues that could manifest at any time. Buying a pre-owned vehicle can mean that you're buying someone else's problem, so there are a few things to do before signing the sales agreement.

Get a history report

Finding out a used car's history can go a long way towards helping you avoid ending up with a vehicle you'll wish you never laid eyes on. A CarHistory Report, for example, could save you from ending up with any of the 25% of used vehicles that have hidden issues. The report can give you the following vital information about a car you consider buying:

  • If the vehicle has suffered damage from an accident, hail, fire or flood
  • If the car has been reported as written off or stolen
  • If the odometer reading is true or potentially tampered with
  • Vehicle safety and emission ratings
  • Any previous sale listings that could indicate a problem
  • A PPSR Certificate showing any existing financing on the vehicle
  • Current market value of the vehicle

While this report isn't an ironclad guarantee a used car is "clean," it can potentially alert you to specific issues that are known. You should also speak to former owners if they are available, search internet forums for mentions of problems with a specific make, model or year of production, and have a mechanic go over any used car you are considering to check for issues.

Buy used like you'd buy new

Consider what you'd be in the market for if you were going to buy a new car whenever you buy a used vehicle. Search for the make and model you'd drive if you had the freest possible choice, instead of looking up listings for the least expensive cars available in your area. You might find the exact car you'd like in "lightly used" condition and work out a way to get it. This could mean the difference between a car you keep for a few years, and one you can plan on keeping for a decade.

Check specs and safety ratings

How will your car be used? If you drive it alone back and forth to work in all kinds of traffic and weather, you may want something that's great on mileage and fairly utilitarian – small enough to park easily, and easy to handle. If you have a big family, you'll probably be looking for something with more seating and cargo space, and possibly amenities like video screens, Wi-Fi connectivity or Bluetooth. Do you have small children, or commonly drive in dangerous weather conditions? In that case you'll want to make sure the vehicle you end up with has a good safety rating.

Used car buyer checklist

Start off looking at a used car with a critical eye. If you saw it sitting in your neighbour's driveway, or it passed you on the roadway what would you think? Check the paint job, look for dings and dents, and get down and close up to see if there are lots of scratches on the panels or damage to bumpers. Also look for things like hail damage, signs of past accidents and any notable rust, as not everything may have been noted or will show up in your report.

Pop the doors and boot, and start checking the cosmetics and functionality. Are the door and boot seals tight and waterproof? Is the upholstery in decent condition? Look at the instrument panels and dash to assess any sun damage. You'll have to use the vehicle, so look for conveniences like a glove-box, console, cup-holders, and so on to see if they are operable and easy to access. Look at air and heat vents to see if they are adjustable or damaged. Make sure A/C, heat, lights, and seatbelts are all functional and there's no squealing when you turn on additional features when the car is running.

Look under the hood to see that the exterior of the engine is clean and there are no leaks. A small mirror on a stick can be used to look under components, and in tight spaces, and a clean white cloth can reveal minute leaks when swiped over surfaces. Look at tubes and brackets for signs of corrosion, and check engine oil, coolant and brake-fluid levels to see if they are too low or high.

Take a test drive to feel and listen to the vehicle. accelerate and decelerate, do turns, drive street and highway, and shift up and down as appropriate on hills or at stops. See how the car brakes, and look behind you to make sure you aren't leaving a trail of exhaust. Listen for tapping, banging, clattering or squealing. Keep an eye on temperature dials and try to determine if the speedometer is correct.

Only if you are fully satisfied that a used car is a good buy should you complete your purchase. Never feel like you can't walk away from a deal. If you're in the market for a new, used or slightly used vehicle, the team at Peter Warren Automotive can help.